Recently, I went to a talk given by a man who had been addicted to drugs by age 13 and was able to turn his life around. In his talk, he spoke about his turning point. One night, he got so high that he did a lot of things that he would’ve never done otherwise and completely regretted them. The next time his friends were getting together to get high he found that he couldn’t be a part of it and that he started having flashbacks to that terrible night. He equated it to a type of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Thankfully, he was able to turn his life around with the help of his family, his community, and a counselor.
I had never thought about how PTSD, often associated with military members who have returned from war, could be felt by others who have gone through any type of traumatizing experience. This got me thinking about the many different things people struggle with that could greatly affect their mental health. How much do we know about what trauma our students are dealing with every day? Is that child who always acts out struggling with abuse at home? Does the student that never turns in his homework have something deeper going on in her life?
Just this week, our staff was talking about schools that no longer give students an “F” because of the negative connotation. These school systems have decided that it’s wrong to give students the impression that they are a failure. It seems ridiculous to me to coddle students this way and that it would be a disservice to not give the student the grade they deserve. Wouldn’t an “F” motivate them to try harder? However, I can’t help but wonder how many children have little to no positive reinforcement in their lives. If a student only ever hears from his or her parent how useless they are or what a failure he or she is, that “F” on a report card could have lasting impact on a child’s self-worth. We don’t always know what type of mental health environment our students are coming from.
Many schools have at least one full-time counselor but according to a fall 2013 article by U.S. News and World Report, only two states are meeting the recommended case/student to counselor ratio. This is a troubling statistic that we may not be able to change immediately. What does this mean for our teachers? It means that in the absences of a counselor we need to be better advocates for our students. We need to learn the signs of what makes a student just a simple trouble maker and not something more.
Here at Trinity Washington University’s Office of Continuing Education we offer professional development courses in counseling. Most times, school counselors take these courses but I know that they would be a benefit to all teachers. There’s so much more to the lives and health of our students. Why not take a counseling course? Or perhaps you could be a leader and set up a time at your school when your school counselor can hold a workshop on identifying the students that may need to see a counselor.
I started writing this blog a few days ago when I first went to that lecture by the drug addict who had turned his life around. Little did I know that mental health and proper care would be front and center in our news this week. The story of Sen. Deeds’ son is very sad and raises many questions about mental health care in our society. I believe it is very important to raise awareness about mental health issues and that each of us should take steps to better educate ourselves to help others that may be struggling.
What can you do to ensure good mental health for those in your school?